The Lone Ranger

The Lone Ranger ★★★★★

A film perceived as a cold and calculated attempt by Disney to replicate its Pirates franchise elsewhere, it's no secret that in all financial aspects, The Lone Ranger was an abject failure. That perception is not entirely unfair as it's no doubt the key reason Disney gave Gore Verbinski and Jerry Bruckheimer over $200 million dollars to make this movie. Critics seemed to revile it before it was even released, Disney were coming for your summer dollars with a disingenuous formula film, cut and pasted from past success.

There was also the issue of Johnny Depp playing one of the few famous Native American roles available in pop culture. It was the first white-washing controversy I remember and it's not one easily dismissed. Although Comanche Chairman Wallace Coffey was happy to be an unofficial advisor on set and lend his positive comments and well wishes to Johnny Depp's performance the overriding sentiment was that this was some bullshit having an actor in red face (or in this case a full white artists interpretation of war painting) in 2013. I can't, won't and don't argue this point or that casting an actor of Native American descent would have been the answer.

Strange to say that upon release, the decks were stacked against a $200M movie, but they were. In retrospect, it had little chance of success both commercially and critically given the lead up and I'm not going to call it "unfair" at all; the reaction was both natural and logical. Once the first negative reviews hit, it became a turkey shoot: Who could revile The Lone Ranger the most? Deep down everyone loves seeing a big studio film fail as we all get to be a part of the schadenfreude.

The creative team had really believed in this film though. Verbinski believed by making Tonto the hero of the story and taking a deeply sympathetic position with the Native Americans on film while having an equally strong cynicism on the American government and capitalism he was paying tribute to those buried by progress. Depp also believed that he was connecting spiritually with the Comanche people and spent much method time learning of the people and their culture in preparation and filming, and that his performance was showing his sincerest respect for their culture. Further to this, when budgetary dramas hit, Verbinski, Depp, Hammer and Bruckheimer all agreed to a 20% fee reduction to get the movie made. They wanted to get this finished; they loved the movie they were making.

It is worthy of your love.

The film itself is an absolute feast with scorching, high contrast visuals of monument valley (not just a great location, but a clear reference to Once Upon a Time in the West, a huge inspiration in the production), an enthralling soundtrack by Hans Zimmer, both paying the necessary tributes to the great Morricone soundtracks and ramping up the William Tell Overture to 11. Hammer's doofy John Reid is a likeable every man and harks back to Depp's own Dead Man with Jim Jarmusch, itself a left field heavyweight of the Western genre. However, the character arc of the film focusses far less on John/The Lone Ranger but on Tonto and slowly building his mystery to unravel it satisfactorily and make him far more than a funny character but a soulful remnant of a culture long past its hey day.

It's one of Depp's best performances (and given the controversy, well that it is!) and he moves from odd-Deppism's, expertly delivered blockbuster joke beats, Buster Keaton level physical comedy and heart breaking introspect.

Verbinski has much to say about America being built on the bones of its minorities, its poor and its imported cultures. His disdain for capitalism seers the screen and it goes far further than just the money making but the people we have all become as a result of it. Tonto is not just the ghost of his people, but the last trace of righteousness in the dying world.

In many ways this is almost a remake of Once Upon a Time in the West, borrowing not just the locations, nor the musical cues from The Man with the Harmonica, but also the construct of a character we see shot early in the film, remaining alive to follow his vengeful path and its chief antagonist's - an overly ambitious and avaricious train tycoon, partnered as two sides of the same coin with murderous outlaw. There are shots borrowed, recreated and whole scenes paid tribute - both from Once upon a Time in the West and from The Good, The Bad & The Ugly but it's all done so distinctively under Verbinski's tight direction and high value visuals that it never feels derivative; just one great stylist taking inspiration from another.

The final 30' deserves mention among the greatest action sequences of all time. It matches the thrill of seeing the Star Wars climactic finale for the first time, but out dazzles it in almost every way. I wish it was another hour, but I fear William Tell would become redundant before it was over.

The Lone Ranger was never indeserving of it's pre-release backlash; The lead in to a bad release was inevitable and I don't call that unfair either. It may even be true to say it deserved to fail. If you still judge it on this criteria though, it's you who's missing out. Once all of the dust settles, it's the most ambitious western ever shot, and it never once buckles under its own weight. On review, it should be considered a great of the genre and in the very same talking circles as the films it pays homage to.

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